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The Feminine Mystique

by Betty Friedan

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Chapters 5 - 8 Questions and Answers

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Study Questions
1. What is Freud’s idea of “penis envy” and how was this concept promoted during the era of the feminine mystique?

2. What is functionalism and how were Margaret Mead’s theories used to reinforce the ideas of functionalism?

3. What does Friedan mean when she says education in the mid-twentieth century became “sex-directed”?

4. Friedan writes that research shows women who graduated from “sex-directed” education were initially happy but later showed “anomie.” What is “anomie”?

5. With the cultural focus on mothering recommended by the feminine mystique, did women learn to become better mothers than their predecessors?

1. Freud’s theories in essence said that women’s fate was to always envy what she lacks and man has—a penis. His theories suggest that men are the sexually and intellectually superior gender, and that any woman wishing to break out of traditional female roles of mother, wife, or housekeeper won’t succeed, for she is only displaying a “penis envy”—as if her urge to think or work is an impossible wish to become male.

2. Functionalism promoted the idea that women should fulfill their current and past “function” in society and marry, then raise and rear children and protect the home front. Margaret Mead’s initial anthropological research suggested that “functions” in society were interchangeable—men could nurture, women could kill—but her later work bowed to functionalism and glorified women’s sexual role as mothers and wives.

3. Educators fell in step with the idea that women needed education to become parents and housewives, rather than as preparation for careers or to think critically. Friedan writes that educators urged women to fulfill only their sexual destiny by finding a mate and bearing children, but did not encourage them to think analytically or creatively, or to entertain multiple possibilities in life. Such an education infantilized women.

4. “Anomie” is a term for a lack of identity. Women who were urged in high school and college to spend their educational years training only for their sexual destiny (as wives and mothers) appeared, later in life, to suffer from a lack of identity. Friedan writes that they were forced to choose their sexual destiny prematurely, without entertaining other possibilities—without thinking about what ideas they believe in or what non-domestic careers might suit them.

5. No, Friedan writes. Despite the focus on parenting and domestic activities recommended to women, women suffered for not being able to focus on other areas of life. Frustrated, they became overprotective or obsessive parents with identities too bound up in child rearing. Their children showed more signs of maladjustment than did children raised in other countries or by mothers with outside involvements.

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Chapters 1 - 4 Questions and Answers


Chapters 9 - 11 Questions and Answers